The American St. Nick

The American St. Nick

Fri, 11/24/2017 - 11:00pm - 11:55pm

Pittsford native Richard Brookins plays the lead role in this documentary that tells the amazing true story of war, honor, luck and love. The American St. Nick shares the remarkable story of a handful of American soldiers who during the chaos of war, help bring Christmas back a small Luxembourg town, and unknowingly create a holiday tradition that continues to this very day. The documentary airs Friday, November 24, 2017 at 11 p.m. on WXXI-TV.

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World War II exacted a heavy toll on the people of Wiltz, Luxembourg, nearly destroying the small town. Occupied by German forces for four years, the town was subject to the whims of Nazi leadership: streets were renamed, the native language was banned, religious freedoms were curtailed, and Saint Nicolas Day was outlawed. The American St. Nick chronicles a day at the height of the war when the battle-weary 28th Infantry Division of the American Army returned hope and joy to the children and people of this war-torn town. On Dec. 5, 1944, American soldiers, led by Harry Stutz, put their guns down for one day and organized a party celebrating the town's centuries-old Saint Nick tradition. Soldiers made hot chocolate from their D-rations, company cooks made donuts and cookies for the children, and 22-year-old corporal Richard Brookins played the role of Saint Nick. An emotional and heartfelt story, The American St. Nick illustrates how American soldiers were able to not only protect, but also provide emotional support to civilians in times of war. 

Less than two weeks after Brookins donned the robes of St. Nick, Adolf Hitler would break through the Allied lines on Germany’s western border. American units were pushed back into the tiny town of Wiltz, where the 28th Division fought to defend its citizens in the bloody struggle known as the Battle of the Bulge. Many Keystone Division GIs and many civilians of Wiltz were killed or injured in the fighting.
 
After the Allied victory over Nazi Germany, memories of sacrifices and heroism in the war led to the creation of monuments and commemorative events. And in Wiltz, memory of the American St. Nick led to an annual reenactment of the events of December 5, 1944. In 1977, representatives of the town contacted Brookins and invited him to return to Wiltz with his family for the commemoration. He accepted the invitation and played St. Nicholas again for Wiltz’s children, complete with the jeep ride.
 
The reenactment of the visit of the American St. Nick has continued every year since then, carried on by the organization Oeuvre Saint-Nicolas. Brookins himself returned to Wiltz seven times over the years to play his special role.

Produced by Tim Gray of Tim Gray Media, The American St. Nick is based on the novel of the same name by author Paul Lion. WXXI is pleased to be the presenting station for The American St. Nick, which is distributed nationally by American Public Television.

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